A couple of years ago I wrote about a risotto with tomatoes, but it wasn’t a one-hundred-per-cent tomato risotto. The other night, a dental incident (which, happily, did not rise to the level of an emergency and was expeditiously remedied) dictated a dinner that involved minimal, indeed optional, chewing. With excellent tomatoes in the house – big ones and small ones, both – a tomato risotto seemed like a good idea: it would be soft and delicious. And so it was.
I started with two fairly large red tomatoes and a double handful of cherry tomatoes; use whatever size and whatever kind are at their best in your garden or local farmers’ market – or in a store that deals in honestly grown and carefully handled tomatoes. There’s no point in using lousy or even blah tomatoes here: rich, savory flavors, lots of juice and a good balance between sweetness and acidity are vital in a dish based so completely on this single ingredient.
I blanched and peeled all the tomatoes; I chopped the big ones then put them through a food mill to remove the seeds and generate what amounted to pulpy tomato juice (and don’t get any ideas about substituting factory-brewed tomato juice). The cherry tomatoes I quartered and set aside sprinkled with salt and flavored with slivered fresh basil (sage would have been nice, and parsley okay; no herbs at all would have been another way to go).
The strained tomatoes I salted and brought to the simmer with a handful of basil leaves (use whatever herb you used with the cherry tomatoes); I then turned off the fire. When the basil had steeped for a few minutes I fished it out and discarded it. This is the basis of the “broth” with which the risotto would be made. For main-course portions for Jackie and me (this would also be a fine first course for four), I diluted the tomato pulp-juice with light vegetable stock and water to total four cups (just less than a liter), which is more than I needed, but good insurance. If I hadn’t had any vegetable stock in the fridge, I’d have used all water. I brought it to the simmer and tasted for salt: an undersalted broth will make a flat-tasting risotto.
From this point I made the risotto in the traditional all-stirring-all-the-time way, starting with half a medium onion sweated in butter, using about 2/3 cup (150 g) of vialone nano rice (other risotto rices are fine too) and substituting the dilute tomato juice for stock. I did not, however, add wine: there was enough acidity in the tomatoes, but if yours are sugar-sweet, follow the usual procedure.
When the rice was just this side of done (about 13 or 14 minutes for vialone nano rice; longer for other strains) I stirred in the reserved quartered cherry tomatoes with all their basil, juice and seeds and cooked, still stirring, for a minute more before covering the pan and letting the risotto rest off the heat for three minutes. At this point it might have needed a little more liquid but didn’t. I finished the risotto in the usual manner, vigorously beating in two tablespoons (30 g) of butter and a handful of grated parmesan; use more of either or both if you think it proper.
It was so tomato-y! But also rice-y and certainly not cloying: Every spoonful was fresh and bright, with just the right depth of savoriness. A marvelous risotto, but one that depended entirely on marvelous tomatoes. Next time you have some in the house, erase your other dinner plans and make it.
Note that I did not add pepper. I often don’t with tomato dishes, and I think twice when cooking many other things too. Salt is vital; pepper often is, but not always.